Sunday, 28 February 2010

46 Improvisations on 46 different Instruments

At the Emergence Pod 1, Barnsley, 23.February 2010. (Picture © 2010, Bob Clayton)
On Tuesday I participated in that challenge about ageism: I pledged to perform 46 improvisations on 46 different instrument. This was a good test for the new MAESTRO-2 computer with Sonar 8.5 and the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4. I arrived around 16:00 at the gallery. It took about one hour to get the stuff from the car and set up everything. Then from 17:00 - 21:30 I played as if I would be at home: anything that came into my head. The Sonar template had a total of 250 different tracks, for the MIDI and the synths. I had chosen to use several variants of the instruments but still count them as on (for example I used 3 violins, 3 celli, several flutes etc. In the end I did not use all these variants, but I was able to fulfill my pledge and create a total of 50 improvisations. Had the MIDI recording running, so I might eventually go through and release these recordings.

At the event itself there was not a large audience. During the day the press and even TV (BBC Look North) had been here, interviewing Brian Lewis who had pledged to create 73 paintings in 24 hours. But when I came, the media buzz had been over, and there were only two painters, a photographer, and a poet there. I played my improvisations - and I hope that my music had inspired them a little.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"Gig" in Barnsley, 23.February 2010, 14:00-evening

Through the project The Rivers Movement in which I am involved as the "technologist", I got "sucked into" a project about ageism: at this event on 23.February 2010 which takes place in the Emergence Pod 1 in Barnsley, May Day Green, artists will create something related to their age. The main organiser, Brian Lewis (age 73), will create 73 paintings in 24 hours.

I have pledged to play 46 improvisations on my new MAESTRO-2 synthesizer computer... using 46 different instruments. Have set up 23 Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) instrumental groups so far, and have added more Cakewalk TTS synthesizer tracks in Sonar. During setting this up I had a few crashes of Sonar while adding TTS tracks. I hope the final version will be stable. The hardware setup will include my Roland A30 Midi controller keyboard. Got a pair of wireless speakers from Maplin for a cable-free setup in the exposition room.

Hopefully I will be inspired enough on 23.February. I plan to start there at the exposition place around 14:00 and will go on into the evening. The improvisations will be saved and will later be recorded and distributed on a CD or online.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Finally: WOW!

I installed the Adobe Acrobat Reader for Windows 7/x64, and read through some of the documentation of GPO and Sonar. Finally I figured out how to install GPO as VST player: needed to copy the DLLs (I only took the two x64 DLLs) into the VST directory of SONAR. Then I could setup an ARIA player as a VST soft synth and control the 16 channels of this player through 16 MIDI tracks. This works remarkably well: even in the DirectSound mode and MME mode there is very little delay, and no crackling in the audio. And the files load so fast: I can configure a set of sound banks in the VST ARIA player, and the files are all loaded within a few seconds - no comparison to the minute-long loading on the old PC MAESTRO-1. I am using the onboard soundcard, which has a good enough sound quality. The XONAR Essence works ok too, but I do not hear any significant difference when using it: the ASIO mode which it provides does not seem to make a difference. I will use it when I will require external audio input.

One problem: when using the ARIA player in standalone with the ASIO mode of the ASUS XONAR soundcard, the buffer is fixed at 4 bytes - no way of changing this. And this appears to be too small: instead of instrumental audio, all I hear is audio crackling. I guess I cannot use the ARIA player in standalone mode then - it seems to work best as a VST within Sonar.

One other issue: it appears that when starting up Sonar one has to go into the audio menu. Doing nothing there, just loading the menu, then ckicking "OK". If this is not done, there is some crackling at the audio, as if there is some clipping or some non synchronised master clock... no idea what the reason for this is, but after doing this look at the audio menu, the audio signal is clear.

I begin setting up a few templates, and I am very impressed by the sound quality of Maestro-2 now!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Building a New PC for Music - Part 7: Music Software

A few days ago I got the notice from DolphinMusic that the items have been shipped. And today they arrived - Great! Finally I will be able to make music again. The MIDI interface M-Audio MidiSport 4x4 Anniversary Edition is recognised by Win7 without problems and without extra installation - it works as a standard MIDI interface. However, M-Audio also offers a driver for Win7/x64 on their website, which I downloaded and installed.
I installed Sonar 8.5, only the first DVD. There are 3 more, but I do not need them right now. This is an "upgrade" version, since I do have SONAR4. However, I was not prompted for any previous version key or anything - maybe this comes when I activate it. SONAR has my details on file; however, I ordered this software not through SONAR.
Finally I install the GPO 4.

The system is now ready!
I load the GPO ARIA player, to play a little around with the Steinway piano. No ASIO driver shows up, because I had not yet installed the ASUS XONAR ESSENCE sound card drivers. For the other on-board soundcard there are the 3 choices MME, DirectSound, and something that I did not yet know: WASAPI. All three of them could only be set to use a buffer of 4096 bytes - and while playing live this caused a significant delay. Quite disappointing.

Starting up Sonar, trying the TruePiano: sounds a bit tinny, no comparison to the rich and full GPO Steinway sound. But at least the latency is low, so I can play live and improvise. But still, a buffer setting too low results in audio cracking.

The overall first impression of this new system is quite disappointing: I thought the performance would be better.